People are up in arms about a lot of things these days. There’s a pesky election that’s set to happen this year, and it’s brought out the worst in Americans. Or, maybe American politics has always been this bad, we’d just have to actually be a part of it in order to see the ugly underbelly. Thanks to social media, we get to say whatever we want about anybody and, a lot of the time, we can do it anonymously. Not having to face consequences seems like a huge factor in promoting bad behavior. I used to think this wasn’t true, that most people were actually good and that we didn’t need so many rules and restrictions on our behavior. I mean, I don’t follow any particular person or group’s dogma and I don’t kill people or randomly attack people either physically or verbally. That’s how people function, right?

Could it be true that the only reason we haven’t devolved into massive mayhem and chaos is because of all the laws? There are rules and punishments against certain behaviors that society doesn’t like, and usually for good reason. There are, of course, the big ones – don’t kill or steal. Maybe most folks wouldn’t do that even if there were no certain and swift punishment for it. Then there are smaller ones – don’t yell ‘FIRE’ in a crowded movie theater, don’t tell someone they are stupid and ugly if you’ve never even spoken to them before.

The first one people don’t do because it is actually against the law. The second one you wouldn’t do to a person if you knew they could best you in a physical confrontation. But, luckily for all the little folks out there, now you can say it without any fear of consequences. There is no law against it. There is no one to stop you. The internet is currently run by the law of the jungle (and I say currently because I think if it keeps going the way it is, the internet will be as regulated as the public airwaves.) Anything goes. There are no rules, no morality, no right or wrong. Do you think something? Say it. Is it horrible, mean, nasty? Will it hurt someone’s feelings? Who cares, they are just words on a screen. And no one can do anything about it.

An interesting thing to say ‘just words on a screen’ and yet, the same folks who say that are so vociferous in their defense of their alleged right to type the useless words on the screen. They will defend it to their dying breath, they say. But why defend it if it matters naught? Why the extreme concern with being able to say things that ultimately don’t have any impact on anyone at all?

You say the words in order to hurt people and you want to be able to hurt people without consequences. Own it. Own that in order to function civilly in society you need the government, or your mom, to tell you how to behave and to exact punishment if you don’t fall into line. Otherwise you will be left to hurl insults at folks you’ve never met before or have never even interacted with on any level.

Look, I dislike the extreme government interference with everything I do. I can’t keep my kids out of school for more than 9 days a year lest the truancy police come after me. My boys aren’t supposed to play in the backyard before the age of 7 (!) without adult supervision. I need my wipers on if it rains, even in a sun shower. I can’t have a radar detector. I mean, it goes on and on and on. But I also don’t run around shitting on people just because I can. Maybe we can have two sets of rules, not based on color or religion or ethnicity, but based on how you behave online. Are you a dick? You go into a regulated internet system where you chat with others who can’t behave and have civil dialogue (even if you disagree.) If you can manage to engage, debate and not call people names, you can come with the rest of us.

I wrote another post recently on anonymity online and honestly, intended today to write about Hillary Clinton’s interview where she laughs about her defense of an accused rapist. But the way my brain works I ended up here. Not that the topic of Clinton won’t be written about here, it will, but I started thinking about who has the right to say what and when. We are all judged by our words these days, as much as by our actions. Let’s not diminish or dismiss the value of any of it.